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This Egg Bowl might be the nastiest Thanksgiving get-together ever

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High stakes in college football's rivalry week (1:02)

The Iron Bowl has playoff implications, and Ohio State hopes to improve its chances with a win in Ann Arbor. Take a look at the Football Power Index to see how things will shake out. (1:02)

The Iron Bowl between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn on Saturday will decide which team wins the SEC West, plays in the SEC championship game and remains in the hunt for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.

No. 9 Ohio State also will try to keep its CFP hopes alive when it plays at Michigan in the 111th version of "The Game" at The Big House on Saturday.

That's all well and good, but conference titles and CFP scenarios will take a back seat to another instate rivalry when it comes to bad blood, bitterness and downright venom.

That's because when struggling Ole Miss plays No. 14 Mississippi State in Starkville on Thanksgiving night (7:30 ET, ESPN), it'll be the culmination of a bizarre few months that have included recruiting violations; the firing of a coach after it was revealed he had called escort services on multiple occasions; and back-and-forth lawsuits from both universities.

But don't tell fans from both schools, who have been at each other's throats for much of the past two years, that the game's outcome doesn't matter.

"It's one of those games where Ole Miss fans probably circled it on their calendars a year ago, and then pulled out a red marker and circled it again this summer," said Steve Robertson, a recruiting writer who covers Mississippi State sports.

Robertson is one of the reasons the Magnolia State's football rivalry has become so intense. During his research for a recently released book entitled "Flim Flam," which documents the sudden rise and fall of the Ole Miss program, Robertson uncovered phone calls that led to former Rebels coach Hugh Freeze's abrupt resignation on July 20.

Robertson was working alongside former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt's attorney, Thomas Mars, when he discovered phone calls to escort services in Freeze's records. An internal investigation by Ole Miss officials uncovered what athletics director Ross Bjork described as a pattern of troubling personal conduct by Freeze.

"Had anybody in this state done their job, I wouldn't have had to do it," Robertson said over the summer. "It got to the point where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of it. I was willing to pass the baton to someone, but no one was willing to take it."

Freeze was forced to resign, and Matt Luke, the team's co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, was named the team's interim coach this season. The Rebels have dropped six of their past nine games entering the Egg Bowl.

While the Rebels' performance this season has been disappointing, they were ineligible to play in a bowl game anyhow. Ole Miss officials imposed a one-year bowl ban in February, after the university was accused of lack of institutional control and Freeze was accused of failure to monitor his staff in an NCAA notice of allegations.

Ole Miss officials and Freeze appeared in front of the NCAA committee on infractions on Sept. 12. The university is still waiting for a ruling more than two months later. The Rebels are accused of 21 rules violations, including 15 Level I violations, which are considered the most serious by the NCAA.

Ole Miss also self-imposed the loss of 11 scholarships during a four-year period from 2015 to 2018, and it forfeited $7.8 million in SEC postseason revenues this year. The NCAA can accept the Rebels' self-imposed penalties or pile on even more.

It initially seemed that the Rebels might have been in the clear with only a slap on the wrist, had it not been for a bizarre sequence of events with former All-America offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil last year. On April 28, 2016, the first night of the NFL draft, someone hacked Tunsil's social media accounts and published a video of him smoking a substance from a gas mask, as well as text messages in which he asked Ole Miss coaches for money to pay rent and his mother's utility bills.

That stunning development caused the NCAA to reopen its investigation of the Rebels, which led to even more troubling charges against Freeze and others. One of the most serious allegations levied against Ole Miss -- and one the school contested at the NCAA hearing -- was that Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis received between $13,000 and $15,600 from an Ole Miss booster while the Rebels were recruiting him.

Ole Miss also disputed charges that Lewis and Mississippi State defensive end Kobe Jones received free merchandise from Rebel Rags, a sporting goods store in Oxford, Mississippi.

Jones and Lewis made the allegations after they were granted partial immunity by NCAA investigators. Lewis even testified in front of the NCAA committee on infractions. Ole Miss fans contend the Bulldogs coerced their players into making the allegations against their instate rivals and aren't telling the truth.

Charles Merkel, an attorney who represents Rebel Rags, sued Jones, Lewis and Lindsey Miller, Tunsil's ex-stepfather, who told the NCAA that he also received free merchandise from the store. Merkel sued the trio for making false statements and said he has hundreds of pages of sales records and credit-card receipts that prove they're lying. Merkel has requested to depose them under oath to prove it.

The Mississippi State players' attorneys appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court earlier this month, asking it to sever their cases and move them from Oxford to Starkville to be tried.

Nutt, who coached the Rebels from 2008 to 2011, reached an undisclosed settlement in October to dismiss a lawsuit that his attorneys filed in July against Ole Miss, its athletics foundation and board of trustees, alleging that Freeze, Bjork and other athletics department officials violated a separation agreement with Nutt by making disparaging comments about him during off-the-record conversations with reporters.

"Houston had no interest in this information being used to embarrass Hugh Freeze, and he made that very clear to me," Mars, Nutt's attorney, said in July. "He wasn't interested in taking a pound of flesh from Hugh Freeze. He only wanted to clear his name."

The lawsuit alleged that Freeze and others used off-the-record conversations with media to help create a "false narrative" that placed primary blame on Nutt for a five-year investigation of the school by the NCAA.

After months of accusations, legal filings and investigations, the Bulldogs and Rebels can finally settle their differences on the field on Thursday night.

Bjork said he's hoping that fans from both sides will be on their best behavior.

"Based on the year we're having, it's probably not going to be as intense, because not many people are giving us a shot," Bjork said. "I think the fact that the game is being played on Thanksgiving night will help. I don't think they'll be out there all day long tailgating, like they would on a Saturday. Regardless, I think it's going to be a little crazy."

On Monday, Bjork and Mississippi State athletics director John Cohen released a joint statement, in which they asked fans of both schools to treat each other with civility and respect. Good luck.

"The Magnolia State will be on the national stage this Thanksgiving night, as two football teams from our proud universities face off in the annual Battle for the Golden Egg," the statement said. "In the spirit of sportsmanship, we ask that fans from both schools honor this storied rivalry with civility and respect for each other.

"This game represents so many indelible memories and unites people from every corner of our wonderful state. Friends, neighbors and co-workers from both sides come together for one day as one Mississippi to celebrate our state's greatest rivalry. Please join us in enjoying the tradition of the Egg Bowl in a respectful and positive manner."

Robertson doesn't see much chance in that. In describing the rivalry when the summer's scandal broke, he said: "It's the two runt puppies in the SEC West fighting for the hind teat. When you finally get locked on that hind teat, you do whatever you have to do to stay there, even if the other guy has to starve."

Two years ago, a Mississippi State fan jumped out of the stands and ran the length of the field toward the Ole Miss cheering section, while letting the Rebels faithful know they were No. 1 with both of his middle fingers.

Robertson will be watching with interest from the Davis Wade Stadium press box on Thursday night. He already has started research for a sequel to "Flim Flam," which he hopes to publish before the 2018 season.

"There's going to be enough bad blood in a normal year," Robertson said. "But with what Ole Miss is going through, it might be even more. The trajectory of these two programs is really going in opposite directions. This is going to be the coup de grace for a lot of Ole Miss people."